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On the Spot: Avis fee for extra driver varies, is hard to explain

Getting to the 'why' is no easy task.

July 31, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
(Scott Garrett / For The Times )

Question: My girlfriend and I flew to Atlanta, where I had reserved and prepaid for a car at Avis' airport location. When I told the counter agent my girlfriend would be an additional driver, the agent told me it would cost an extra $13 a day to add her to the rental agreement. (She is well over 25 years old, like me.) When I asked what it was for, I got the "company policy" answer. Had she been my spouse or had this been a business trip and we both worked for the same company, there would have been no charge to add her to the agreement. After returning home, I called Avis customer service and spoke with a supervisor who had no idea what the purpose of the charge was and gave me the "company policy" answer. What is the reasoning behind this?

Michael Kranther

Los Angeles

Answer: My first try at getting Avis to explain this was as unsuccessful as Kranther's. I received a link to an Avis Q&A Web page explaining the policy, where I found some interesting tidbits. To wit:

• In Nevada, the additional driver fee is $10 a day, up to $50. In New York, it's $3 a day for each driver. But in California, the amount for an additional driver is a big round number: zero.

• If you're traveling on company business, a business colleague doesn't get charged as an additional driver. Neither does your spouse or domestic partner or a disabled renter who has filled out the "non-licensed renter form."

• You can add only two extra drivers under Avis' policy, the site says.

Interesting stuff, this. But what's the "why" behind the $13 a day?

On my second try at clarification, Alice Pereira of Avis explained. "The additional driver fee is designed to deal with the increased financial risk associated with having more than one driver," she said in an email. "Vehicles with more than one driver tend to have a higher incidence rate of accidents and vehicle damage."

This scenario suggests that, by the act of marriage or domestic partnership, the risk of having more than one driver is diminished. Or, to take it one step further, my husband would be safer riding with me than with Kranther's girlfriend, a fact he would hotly dispute without even knowing Kranther's girlfriend. And having ridden with some of my colleagues, I think I would probably be safer with Thelma and Louise.

But rather than following that logic over a cliff (no offense, Thelma and Louise), let's move on to whether you can allow someone to drive whose name is not on the rental contact.

You can, but whether you should is another matter.

First, you'd be lying. And second, you could create a pot o' trouble for yourself.

"You have to recognize you may be exposing yourself to liability in the event there is a problem as a result of an unauthorized driver," said Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting Group, a consulting and market research firm for auto rental and other industries. In other words, if the unauthorized driver has a wreck, you could nullify any insurance coverage you might have had.

The solution? Don't pay the extra driver fee and do all the driving yourself. Or rent only in California. Or rent with your spouse or domestic partner. Or, safest of all, pay the extra driver fee and relax, which is what you're supposed to do on vacation.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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